Category Archives: Reviews

Home Boys ~ Alex Wheatle

home boys.jpgFour friends decide to run away from the horror of their everyday lives in a children’s home in the English countryside. They head for the woods, their sense of freedom surprises them, and for the first time they feel the exhilaration of adolescence. Yet the forest slowly asserts its own power and what happens there will affect the four boys’ lives forever.

My initial reaction when picking up Home Boys was the thought that this was going to be an upsetting read with no joy or redemption contained within the pages. I was wrong! Home Boys is bleak and hard to read, but it is also a beautifully written, opening with grief and loss in the mid 1980’s as we are introduced the major players of this drama it then dives further back the 1970’s where the boys’ story begins. As hard and uncompromising as it was, Home Boys ends on a note of hope that I did not see coming, friendships and love built over years endure beyond what many people expect and continues past the story ending.

Alex Wheatle, always a gripping writer has given us an important work about life as a kid in care in the 1970’s and how brutality and abuse within the system can continue to distort and destroy lives down the years. Where Home Boys shines are in the interactions between the friends, capturing the love, anger, growing tensions and everything else that bubbles up within adolescent peer groups.

Wheatle weaves in the overt racism of the 1970’s and does not shy away from the language and brutality that still lingers just beneath the surface of society to this day. Home Boys is an important read – to help us face the cruelty and mistreatment that was prevalent in many care homes of the recent past, as well as the abuses people of colour still face to this day.

Home Boys by Alex Wheatle is published by Arcadia books and is available now

There is a Rumer going round…

Rumer Cross is cursed. Scraping by working for a dingy London detective agency, she lives in the shadow of her mother, a violent criminal dubbed the ‘Witch Assassin’ whose bloodthirsty rampage terrorised London for over a decade.

Raised by foster families who never understood her and terrified she could one day turn into her mother, Rumer has become detached and self-reliant. But when she’s targeted by a vicious mobster who believes she’s hiding an occult relic, she’s drawn into the very world she’s been fighting to avoid.

Hunted by assassins and haunted by her mother’s dark legacy, Rumer must also confront a terrible truth: that she’s cursed, because no matter what she does, everybody she’s ever grown close to has died screaming.

Bloody good and at times just plain bloody… Vicious Rumer is a book that I refuse to call a guilty secret – because no-one should feel guilty about what they read! There are times I just want a good knock-down, curb-stomp novel that grabs me by the eyes and drags me through a city’s dark underbelly leaving me wanting a cigarette and a stiff drink!

Billed as a thriller for fans of Jessica Jones, Lisbeth Salander and films like The Craft I came to this book with high expectations and Josh not only met those expectations he exceeded them in ways too bloody to mention in a family-friendly library blog like this one!

Key-words: anti-hero, blood, violence, gore, bad guys, worse guys, make it stop, please make it stop!

Vicious Rumer is out soon from those stout-hearted folk at Unbound – order it in print or pixels here: https://unbound.com/books/vicious-rumer/

The Smoke by Simon Ings

Humanity has been split into three different species. Mutual incomprehension has fractured the globe. As humans race to be the first of their kind to reach the stars, another Great War looms.

For you that means returning to Yorkshire and the town of your birth, where factories churn out the parts for gigantic spaceships. You’re done with the pretentions of the capital and its unfathomable architecture. You’re done with the people of the Bund, their easy superiority and unstoppable spread throughout the city of London and beyond. You’re done with Georgy Chernoy and his questionable defeat of death. You’re done with his daughter, Fel, and losing all the time. You’re done with love.

But soon enough you will find yourself in the Smoke again, drawn back to the life you thought you’d left behind.

You’re done with love. But love’s not done with you.

The Smoke crept in through my eyes and settled under my skin, setting up an itch each time I put the book down, the only scratch that soothed it was picking it up and losing myself in this strangely different earth.

There was a problem though, for me The Smoke was not a book I could read while tired, Simon Ings’ text is richly descriptive, beautiful and compelling but each evening as I lay in bed with my eyes devouring the text, I found myself reading and rereading pages because my weary mind was having difficulty absorbing the story.

So I made a decision to read The Smoke during the day in my lunch hours and during library lessons where I encouraged students to pick a book and read it. Selflessly I read The Smoke to show them how easy it is to sink into an amazing book! How quickly those moments fled when I was immersed in the world that Simon had created, I grew to dread the sound of the school bell ringing signalling the end of my break or the end of a lesson, but I persevered and managed to spend time in this compelling, strange new world and do my job.

The Smoke is a book to take your time with, it’s story will reward you if you do not rush through it!

The Smoke is the kind Science Fiction I love and look out for when I have the time.

The Smoke, written by Simon Ings and published by Orbit Books is out now! I think you should buy it or request it from your local library!

Mine by S.A. Partridge

On stage, Fin is Thor. Angry and invincible. Yet for all his potential, people always leave him. Kayla is the only girl he’s ever met who’s worth loving. The only one he’s ever wanted to be worth something for.

Kayla knows she’s weird and unlovable. But she wants to believe there is no reason to be sad anymore.

In each other Fin and Kayla find the only place they’ve ever belonged. Until the ghosts from the past come to break them apart.

This book is something else!

I could tell you that Mine by Sally Partridge is one of the best YA novels I have read this year. Or I could explain (at length) how she has captured the very essence of young love and toxic high school relationships.

Maybe I could try to convince you that this book will resonate with anyone who has been, or is, in love and will recognise the feelings of desire, insecurity and fear that well up as we try to second-guess what the object of affection is thinking or feeling at any given time.

I could, but I won’t – instead I will just say that this book should be an essential part of any YA selection in libraries or in private ownership! Buy it, read it and share it – you will, laugh, you will cry, you will get angry and at the end you will say “Jesus I did not see that coming!” (well that is what I said anyway), I am still not over it – thanks Sally!

Told from the point of view of Fin and Kayla in alternating chapters their passion for each other is so raw and real that it almost hurts to read their story. It is testament to Sally’s skill as a writer that even when our main characters are portrayed at their worst and most unlikable that we never lose the feelings of sympathy and hope for their future.

Mine is a beautiful, broken love story that will remain with you long after you have finished reading.

Mine is published by Human & Rosseau in South Africa and is available now

A Change is Gonna Come: Review by Alison Tarrant


This is a collection of short stories and poetry by various authors, all of whom come from diverse backgrounds. There is a real range of characters, stories and settings here, but they were all a delight to read – though delight is not what I felt when reading.

The stories enclosed in this book are powerful experiences – Dear Asha by Mary Bello had me crying into my tea on a lunch break, Hackney Moon by Tanya Bryne is the story of first love and relationships with a brilliant ending that definitely had me reacting (but I won’t say how for fear of spoiling it!). Meanwhile Clean Sweep by Patrice Lawrence and We Who? by Nikesh Shukla talk about incredibly important themes in the current world – punishment, reality dramas, and the media while all the time being focused on the human impact – love, friendship, neglect, bullying and control.

The different stories chart the lives of young people in the UK, America and Nigeria, in refugee camps, and homes, and schools. It represents the world that I know exists, and that so often is lacking from fiction, particularly YA.

The foreword by Darren Chetty is powerfully written, and as an expression of hope and intent the book delivers exactly what it sets out to.

This is brilliantly followed by the poem by Musa Okwonga – The Elders on the Wall: “My choices are two:/Either I stand here,/Chip away at each brick,/Or… turn and run…” I think we all need to chip at the wall a little harder, and as a starting point I’d recommend you read this book, buy this book, borrow this book.

Then, ask publishers for more.

A Change is Gonna Come is published by Stripes Publishing and is out now

Alien Augmented Reality Survival Manual

Alien was the scariest film I ever watched as a child so naturally I became obsessed with it and became a fan of the franchise.

Over the years I read novelizations, comic book adventures set in the Xenomorph universe and got my bloody Alien fix through these and the later films and prequels.

I have to say that the U.S.C.M. Alien AR Survival Manual is the best Alien related thing I have seen since Aliens!

This book is the official training guide for the United States Colonial Marines and going by the movies, boy do they need it! Filled with bits of backstory about the Marines, the Weyland Yutani Corporation, various characters from the films, the space ships and weaponry this is the perfect book to read compulsively from cover to cover or dip into from time to time and choose arbitrary points to open the book to find something to grab your attention.

from this…

…to this


The augmented reality app can be downloaded on Apple and Android platforms and is usable throughout the book, linking short videos to pictures and also a brilliant interactive training section (my favourite being trained to land a drop-ship onto a pad on my desk).
A lot of work has gone into producing this book, it looks fantastic and contains a ton of information on all the Alien-related films and the AR additions are the best I have seen!

I landed this drop-ship safely on my desk using my smartphone


This book is highly recommended for all sci-fi fans and will be extremely popular in libraries (I have several students clamouring to be the first to borrow it)

The Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Guide is available from www.carltonbooks.co.uk at a price of £25

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Illustration for The Folio Society edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry © the Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Société Civile pour l’Oeuvre et la Memoire d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)


I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince as a child, it was the first book I picked up that I was aware was old (rather a classic) but in my mind then I knew it was considered a good book because it was still in print. It was illustrated but as the pictures were black, white & grey I focused more on the story and Saint-Exupery’s words whisked me away on the tale of the aviator and the Little Prince.

Flash forward to the present-time some 30-odd years later and I revisited The Little Prince again and not for the first time; I had previously read the graphic adaptation by acclaimed French graphic novelist Joann Sfar – a beautiful volume that appears to have sailed under the radar of many readers.

Illustration for The Folio Society edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry © the Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Société Civile pour l’Oeuvre et la Memoire d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)


However rereading the novel with Saint-Exupery’s illustrations in the colours he originally used lifts the story from classic of literature into high art. Once again the Folio Society has made my jaw drop with this beautiful slip-cased, two-volume set comprising the story (the year 2000 translation) and the full colour illustrations.

The companion volume is purely a thing of beauty, from rough sketches to finished pieces the artwork contained in this slim volume gives the reader some insight Saint-Exupery crafted his illustrations. The artwork alongside the thoughtful commentary by Christine Nelson, giving a precis of the story and a critique of the work make this a must-have for fans of classic works for children.

Illustration for The Folio Society edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry © the Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Société Civile pour l’Oeuvre et la Memoire d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

The Folio Society edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, introduced by Stacy Schiff and translated by Richard Howard, is exclusively available from www.foliosociety.com

The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris

I have never been able to say that a book took my breath away; after encountering The Lost Words I am no longer able to say that.

It is not that the book whisked my breath away, but rather that the magic of the book entranced me while I was looking at and reading it my autonomic nervous system slowed and I forgot to draw breath, until my body, starved of oxygen, demanded that I inhale.

Through some subtle alchemy Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris have captured some of the magic of the wild on fragile pieces of paper. With his words, in verse so spare that not a word is wasted nor extra ones required Robert has written the movement of the animals and captured the essence the floral kingdom in ways that I have never encountered in print before before. Jackie, whose work I have adored for years has truly outdone herself, I keep expecting the animals to dart off the page and the gentle breeze to whistle through the brambles or conkers and acorns to fall from their branches.

The Lost Words is a memory of the wild and a reminder of the potency of words that exist and should not be forgotten.

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina


Riot Days is written in a style that you almost expect to hear screamed into a microphone at a gig or whispered at an intimate performance poetry event. It tells of the events leading up to the infamous Pussy Riot protest performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral and the group’s subsequent arrest, imprisonment and transport to a penal colony from the point of view of Maria Alyokhina, activist, musician, founding member of the Pussy Riot Collective and a former political prisoner.

Riot Days makes for compelling reading, it is a report from a modern day neo-dicatorship and a warning to everyone who takes their freedoms and democratic rights for granted that freedom can be a transitory thing and we need to fight for it in thousands of little ways or we will wake up and find that it is lost.

At its core, Riot Days is about the a little freedom that can never be taken away – the freedom of Choice to stand against the wrongs you see and experience, instead of just putting your head down and accepting them.

It is a blueprint for protest, a step by step guide to standing up to fascism and surviving against the bullying tactics of a police state.

riot days

Riot Days is published by Allen Lane Books and will be available from the 14th September

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

Barry Hines was a phenomenal writer and A Kestrel for a Knave is rightly regarded as one of his finest works. In the 50 years since it was published, his words have lost none of their power or stark beauty, detailing a day (with flashbacks) in the life of Billy Casper, a poor, working class lad from a broken family in the North.
I cannot think of any other unflinching portrayals of working class youth that have become so deeply embedded into the public consciousness, thanks in part to Kes; the film adaptation directed by Ken Loach and co-written by Hines himself.

The edition from the Folio Society does justice to the story. It is not only beautiful to behold – from the translucent dust jacket to the endpapers illustrated with silhouettes of birds in flight and the illustrations throughout the story breaking up the text but it is a thing of beauty to hold, the slightly rough cover and the rich, soft pages that are a delight to turn and read.

David Howe’s illustrations are a wonderful addition to the story and I cannot think on any other artist that could have done justice to this story of a no-hoper and a hawk!

A Kestrel for a Knave takes the reader back to a time that although not so long ago is gone forever, of roaming the fields, catching and taming raptors, knowing what the future held – usually a rough life down in the pits and casual violence and brutality.

Published by the Folio Society, A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines is available now.

All Illustrations by David Howe from The Folio Society edition of A Kestrel for a Knave ©David Howe 2017